It took years for Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to become the GOP’s favorite Democrat in the Senate, with Republicans recently praising him for no less than “saving the country” and “the American way of life” because of his refusal to go along with much of his party’s agenda.
And it took Republicans just one afternoon to turn against the West Virginia wildcard senator and cast him as yet another acolyte for Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.
Last week, Manchin did the one thing Republicans — and some Democrats — all thought he wouldn’t: He made a deal.
Just minutes after the Senate passed a high-tech manufacturing bill — a bill Republicans had threatened to keep if Manchin miraculously reached an agreement with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on a climate, health care and tax measure — Manchin and Schumer announced that they had done the unthinkable.
And suddenly, the senator who once praised the GOP for preventing the country from going down a road to ruin had, in their opinion, suddenly jumped into the driver’s seat—and had done so secretly.
On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – who told reporters last year, “God bless” Manchin – told The Daily Beast that he appreciated Manchin’s “holding the line” in enforcing the filibuster, the 60-vote threshold of the Senate to pass laws. But Graham stressed that Manchin is pushing an “ill-considered idea” that “makes no sense”.
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who last year reportedly urged GOP senators to strategically praise Manchin and was open to Manchin-swinging parties — said during his press conference on Tuesday that his West Virginia counterpart had a “terrible deal” Closed.
“How he can defend this is amazing,” McConnell said. “This is a deal that only Bernie Sanders would love.”
For Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Manchin’s move seemed to trigger at least four of the five stages of mourning. When Manchin faced fierce Democratic criticism last year, Cornyn routinely defended his colleague against his 350,000 Twitter followers. In December, Cornyn admitted to texting Manchin in person to ask if he would like to attend the GOP conference, calling the prospect “the greatest Christmas present” he could imagine.
But after Manchin rolled out his deal, Cornyn took to the Senate floor to reject an “Olympic-sized flip flop” by the Democratic senator.
Since the weekend, Cornyn has tweeted more than a dozen times about Manchin’s decision, questioning his analysis of economic data, accusing him of “prevariation” and claiming that he had “lashed himself” to President Joe Biden in a state where he is deeply unpopular.
In one tweet, Cornyn twisted the knife by appealing to what Republicans had seen as Manchin’s most courageous moment.
“Manchin tries to pretend he killed BBB,” he said, referring to Biden’s extensive Build Back Better agenda, “but he actually agreed to the Green New Deal.”
In size and scope, the package Manchin ultimately brokered lags far behind the Green New Deal, or Build Back Better, which invested hundreds of billions of dollars more in climate and energy measures. The new legislation, which soon took on a medium-term-friendly name – the Inflation Reduction Act – is nonetheless a big package that includes tax hikes for the rich, $300 billion in climate investment and reforms to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Republicans believe that even this more modest package would be disastrous for the economy, given two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, ongoing inflation and widespread fears that the US economy is sinking into recession. Many hope that Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will play a Manchin-esque role here; the Arizona centrist has yet to sign her to the Manchin-Schumer deal, and her opposition would sink the plan as Democrats plan to pass the bill in full with Democratic votes using a special budget process.
But when it comes to Manchin, “the gloves are off,” said a senior GOP aide.
“Manchin held the line over the filibuster and BBB,” the senior Republican aide continued. “But in the end, he almost always ends up where Schumer wants him. Republicans hoped that wouldn’t be the case.”
The implications for Manchin will reverberate beyond Capitol Hill. In scarlet West Virginia, the conservative Democrat has always struck a delicate political balancing act. But his deal could unravel the cord even further. A potentially packed field of GOP challengers could face the Democrat if he is re-elected in 2024, and several potential candidates have already started hammering him for closing a deal.
Some Senate Democrats had a simple answer to the GOP’s Manchin woes. “They are moody that we have found a compromise,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). “And they’re going to say what they think is helpful to their cause, which is to nullify this legislation.”
When asked about the GOP’s criticism during a press release on Tuesday, Manchin himself was magnanimous. “They’re still my friends,” he said of his Republican colleagues. “I love them all.”
The tenor of the Republicans’ swipe at Manchin seemed largely rooted in their belief that Manchin was against such a deal on principle. Although the senator stayed at the negotiating table for more than a year, his insistence on inflation concerns with his stance on key legislation led Republicans to believe Manchin was unlikely to agree to anything important.
sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told The Daily Beast that he was surprised that Manchin said yes. “Both Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema are publicly willing to stand out and make a difference in some areas, such as the rules,” Blunt said. “But you know, making legislation is a fluid process.”
Several GOP lawmakers suggested — or explicitly said — that Democratic leaders were simply cheating him. Influential former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers reportedly called Manchin repeatedly to convince him that the proposal would not contribute to inflation, a detail that has left some Republicans wondering how he arrived at his conclusions about the legislation’s impact.
Other Republicans were harsh in their assessment of Manchin’s role. sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who worked with Manchin a decade ago on a major arms reform measure, said Sunday he was being “taken to the cleaners”.
But Manchin has steadfastly defended his position that the legislation would, in fact, dampen the economic trend that has eroded Americans’ purchasing power. He took to all five major Sunday political talk shows this weekend to downplay the bill’s tax increases for the wealthy and highlight its provisions to increase energy production.
Jonathan Kott, a former aide to Manchin, expressed surprise that “Republicans are angry with him for agreeing to a bill he’s been working on for months,” especially one that includes Republican priorities such as reducing federal debt. government.
The GOP response, Kott said, “won’t stop” [Manchin] of working with his good friends on the order side of the aisle in the future.”
Indeed, even amid Republican frustration with Manchin, few GOP lawmakers were willing to fully settle on him. sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who has been friends with Manchin for two decades, praised him and Sinema for their objections to Democrats’ plans last year, and paid tribute to Manchin’s decisions.
“In this case, when he comes forward, he thinks he has struck a good deal. Time will tell,” said Rounds. “I respect him. But I think they may have sold him a piece of goods in this particular case.”
Other Republican lawmakers believe it won’t be long before Manchin is back on track. Asked about Manchin’s turnaround, Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) joked, “He’s dead to us!”
Calling his friend’s deal a “big distraction,” Cramer suggested that sometimes his GOP colleagues forget something important. “Joe reminds us every now and then that he’s a Democrat,” he said. “But the reason he’s disappointing is because he’s with us so often, and we have to remember that.”
Although Cramer predicted that Manchin’s move would strain relations “for a while,” he predicted Republicans would get over it.
“Joe has a kind of remarkable way of building bridges,” he said, “more than burning them.”
—with coverage from Ursula Perano